Denver Broncos (7-1) at San Diego Chargers (4-4)
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego - TV: CBS
*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
*Keys to the game: The Broncos want an early lead to set the tempo. The Chargers prefer to play the game at a more deliberate pace. San Diego typically gets its yardage in small bites, and has mounted 12 drives of 10 or more plays in the past three games, six of which consumed at least six minutes of game clock. The Broncos were effective rushing Philip Rivers last year, and if they can sprint to that early lead look for them to use the speed of their outside pass rushers to try and disrupt Rivers' timing. Rivers isn't holding the ball in the pocket, and the aggressive Broncos could have success jumping routes to his primary reads -- WR Keenan Allen and TE Antonio Gates. Rivers' leading receiver, RB Danny Woodhead, is a liability as a pass blocker but Denver has been dinged by dumpoffs to running backs underneath. Broncos QB Peyton Manning is masterful using his personnel to win individual matchups from play to play. He'll target $20 million free agent Derek Cox, who was benched last week, when the Chargers stretch to five and more defensive backs to counter the Broncos' spread.
*Matchup to watch - Broncos pass rushers Von Miller and Shaun Phillips vs. Chargers OTs King Dunlap and D.J. Fluker -- Miller and Elvis Dumervil racked up seven combined sacks against the Chargers' overwhelmed offensive tackles, Mike Harris and Jeromey Clary, last season. Dunlap and Fluker have stabilized the tackle spots and have combined to permit just four sacks through eight games, but this is the biggest challenge they've faced.
*Player spotlight - Chargers OLB Jarret Johnson: Johnson not only sets the edge on running plays, but is tied for the team lead with three sacks -- despite missing the two games leading up to the loss at Washington with a cranky hamstring. "It was great to have him back out there," coach Mike McCoy said last week.
*Fast facts: Manning is 3-4 in head-to-head meetings with Rivers. ... Chargers RB Ryan Mathews has three 100-yard games against the Broncos, most against any opponent.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
Denver brings all the ingredients to make opponents uncomfortable, and the Chargers don't have the ability to counter, or exchange punches with, the Broncos' playmakers on both sides of the ball. Interim Denver coach Jack Del Rio starts off on the right foot.
*Our pick: Broncos 34-22